It is no secret that many people interpret Scripture in a way that is totally off base. We wonder how they come to that conclusion, especially when the come back is “What does the Bible say?” We are forced to admit that indeed the Bible may SAY that, but THAT is not what it means. No wonder Christianity is so confusing to those on the outside.
The Bible must be read, understood, interpreted and then it’s teachings applied. The first stop here is an understanding of the type and genre of the passage you are reading.
When interpreting HISTORICAL NARRATIVE, these are some principles to keep in mind:
- Context and intent are key.
- Characters are not always heroes; authors are not always intending to present moral lessons.
- God is the ultimate character of Scripture, and He is active in the lives of real people and in the events of history.
- Scripture interprets Scripture.
- Historical narrative describes, not prescribes.
- Example: Genesis 30:1-6
When interpreting WISDOM LITERATURE, these are some principles to keep in mind:
- Proverbs are general truths that are not to be interpreted as true all the time in every situation.
- Wisdom literature incorporates poetry and figurative language.
- Negative illustrations teach just as much as positive ones.
- The psalms should be interpreted within their categories and subheadings.
- God is involved even in the nitty-gritty of everyday life.
- Example: Proverbs 22:6, 26:4-5, 3:1-3 (balanced with Acts 7:54-60)
When interpreting PROPHECY, these are some principles to keep in mind:
- Seek to discover the original message of the prophet in his immediate context.
- Expect figurative language.
- Be aware of themes in prophecy, such as a call to the covenant, to social justice, and for faithfulness from the remnant of God’s people.
- Do not assume that all prophecy has been fulfilled.
- Test modern-day prophesies against the truthfulness and coherency of Scripture.
- Example: Joel 2:28-32, Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:21-22
When interpreting LETTERS, these are some principles to keep in mind:
- Seek to discover who wrote the letter.
- Seek to discover to whom it was written and why.
- Investigate the historical context of the audience of the letter.
- Consider the structure, sections, main points, and themes of the letter.
- Determine whether the passage is culturally mandated. If so, seek to understand the principles behind the passage, and apply them to your own circumstances.
- Example: Galatians 1:1-7, 1 Corinthians 11:6
The great thing is that Jesus does not leave us alone to interpret Scripture for and by ourselves, Luke 24:27 is quite an encouragement. He escorts us along the journey and shows us how to properly interpret the Bible.